[identity profile] sheafrotherdon.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] sga_flashfic
Fic: Bound by Will (Body Modification Challenge)
Author: [livejournal.com profile] sheafrotherdon
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: I own nothing, save perhaps these PJs I'm in.
Summary: On PX8-839, scientists are valued above all other commodities.
A/N: Thanks to the lovely [livejournal.com profile] siriaeve for the beta. ~2300 words. (Now with art by [livejournal.com profile] melagan, and cover by [livejournal.com profile] aesc!)

By the time they cut Rodney down, John's so incoherent with anger he's dizzy with it, hears it like a dull thrum in his bones. Teyla steps forward, exchanges diplomatic words with the bastards who did this, nodding and offering a tight smile that somehow still manages to communicate grace. Ronon catches Rodney before he hits the ground, large hands gentle as he helps the injured man stand. The ropes are still wound tight around Rodney's wrists, cut ends dangling, dragging in the dirt, and there's absolutely nothing John can do. Teyla has words and Ronon has strength, but they took his gun, and his trigger finger closes over cold, empty air.

The medical team's in place as they land; John lowers the hatch on the jumper and lets the hoards swarm. "Gentle," he growls as the medics try to pull Rodney out of Ronon's grasp and, as if he'd barked a more specific command, they step back, let Ronon lay Rodney on the gurney, face down, back painted with tiny rivulets of blood.

"What happened?" Elizabeth asks, jaw tight with concern as Beckett wheels Rodney away.

John glowers at her, chewing on every godforsaken word he hasn't been able to say.

"Scientists on their planet are – " Teyla glances at John. "Possessions. Their intellect and aptitude are noted at an early age, and they are bought and traded – they are commodities."

"So they – wanted to trade for McKay?" Weir asks, watching each of them, gauging their reactions.

Teyla shakes her head. "Scientists are marked. In their quadrant of the galaxy this – trade in human ability is widespread. Communities mark those who are gifted to register their claim. They may not be taken off-world, nor can their enemies claim any who are so identified."

"So – " Weir looks in the direction the medical team took McKay.

"They marked him," John grits out. "They strung him up in the village square and they marked him."

"But they let you go."

"Oh – " John grins, a nasty malicious smile. "They grasped they didn't get to keep him – that if they tried there'd be hell to pay on a scale they associate with the Wraith – "

Teyla ducks her head. Weir raises an eyebrow.

"- but that didn't mean they couldn't mark him – prevent anyone else in that quadrant from claiming him."

"Tattoo," Ronon says simply. "Across his shoulders."

"There were drugs administered," Teyla adds. "Doctor McKay was forced to drink a thick, noxious substance that – impaired his thinking greatly. Made him . . . compliant."

John growls again.

"The tattoo was – crudely done," Teyla says gently. "A sharpened bone, and a large number of inks. It was time-consuming; there was, I fear, significant blood loss owing to – "

"The fact that it was pretty much just ritual torture?" John spits. "He was – " He sits down in his chair and scrubs a hand over his face.

"Doctor McKay was – in some pain despite the drugs administered and – " Teyla falls silent.

"So," Elizabeth says. "They revere science. They're advanced. I presume they had weapons."

"Guns," Ronon offers. "Lots of 'em."

"And took yours?" She asks, looking at John.

"Yeah." Ronon scratches the back of his neck. "Gave 'em back as we were leaving. Not much use then."

"Are any of you injured?"

Ronon snorts the team's derision, despite the purpling bruise on his face.

"So – " Elizabeth draws in a breath. "The tattoo –?"

"A word," Teyla offers, "widely-known in that quadrant of the galaxy, although perhaps spoken differently in each community. It means – " She falters. "The official translation they provided was 'bound by will,' but conversations around us suggest it implies more. A – secondary status. Servile."

"It means slave," John mutters.

Elizabeth sighs and gives a sharp nod. "Right. Well - you should shower; eat. I'll expect reports by tomorrow at 1600 hours. And – " she said as John stands, spoiling for a fight, "you should go to the infirmary for post-mission release. While you're there, you could see if Doctor McKay is okay."

Ronon holsters his weapon and Teyla lays her P-90 on the bench, but John keeps his in his hand as he leads the way to the infirmary, mentally tallying up the bullets at his disposal, and the faces he'd seen on PX8-839.


The drugs break down in Rodney's system sluggishly, leaving him weak and disoriented. He flinches when anyone touches him, and despite the topical painkiller Carson applies as a spray, the tattoo causes him restless discomfort. John suspects it isn't the pain of the healing, but rather the weight of the word itself that's the problem. He sits in the infirmary at night, keeping watch, offering comfort, and the tattoo lies stark beneath the dimmed hospital lights.

Bound by will. Servile. Slave.

The design is perversely, irrationally beautiful – looping curves and tapered end-stems; dashes that translate to accents and umlauts in John's head. The mark is calligraphy, art and function, brought into being by a reverence for science, by a gut-twisting fear that compels the rich to enslave the brilliant so that they in turn might enslave the boundaries of science themselves. And as Rodney sleeps, John stands over him and hears the echo of every breath and broken plea in the mark's grim genesis; sees the stark, fragile beauty of Rodney's arms stretched wide, pale in the paler light of morning, bound in place, in supplication, for his team.


"I hear he's terrorizing his staff just like usual," Elizabeth says, falling into step beside John as they head to a morning briefing.

"Sure," John says, and if Elizabeth hasn't noticed the way Rodney's walking with his shoulders stooped, confining himself to the labs, curled in protectively over himself and his laptop, then he's sure as hell not going to tell her. The least Rodney's earned is that people goddamn notice.

Elizabeth eyes him gently. "Stay afterwards. I have some news that you'll find - "

"Afterwards," he nods, strides into the room and slides into his usual chair.

He watches Rodney closely. It's not just the way Rodney skulks that's bothering him – although the weight of the tattoo on his shoulders is so obvious it makes John want to wince. It's the way Rodney shifts as if he can't get comfortable, as if his shirts are a burden, as if sitting is a chore. He's too quiet and his bluster is gone, as if the word on his back contains a truth to which he's trying to adjust. John's trigger finger curls reflexively when he sees it, still itching to do what he should've on the planet, what he's good at, what his team trusts him to do.

"How long before he heals?" he asks Carson, grabbing him in the hallway after he's heard what Elizabeth has to say.

"He's all but there, lad," Carson replies. "The scabby part's over – now it's just stings and burns. He has an ointment that'll do him the power of good, but I – "

John cocks an eyebrow and waits.

"I don't think he's using it."

John closes his eyes and swears softly. "Give the damn stuff to me."

"Be kind, eh?" Carson says, walking him toward the infirmary. "It was – "

"I was right there," John says low and violent, and Carson nods, fetches him the cream and leaves him be.


"Carson's right," John says when the door to Rodney's quarters slides open.

Rodney stares at him. From the exhaustion writ large on his face it's clear he hasn't the wherewithal to work out what exactly Carson may or may not have said. He shakes his head. "Come in. Try not to talk in incomplete sentences, riddles or extended metaphors."

"Right. With me being so wordy and all," John offers.

It doesn't earn even a flicker of a smile. "What did you want?" Rodney sighs, standing in the middle of the room, arms folded, shoulders tense.

The door closes at John's back. "You're not using the stuff Carson gave you."

Rodney tilts his chin. "So much for doctor-patient confidentiality."

"Thing is – I worked out why. And we're pretty fucking dumb, the rest of us, that we didn't figure it out."

"Isn't that a given?" Rodney asks. It's a weak attempt at his usual sarcasm, but it's something.

"You can't reach, can you?" John asks, shrugging out of his jacket.

Rodney freezes. "I – "

"You can't reach and you won't ask for help."

Rodney's chin lifts a little higher. "It's fine."

"No, it's not." John fishes the jar of ointment out of his pocket before he throws his jacket to the side. "None of this is fine. Beginning to end." He can feel his anger simmering again.

Rodney blinks, glances away. "It's minor discomfort. You've endured far worse. Bug to your neck?"

"You won't ask for help," John says, taking another step closer, voice as even as he can make it, "because you don't want anyone to see. But the thing is?" He tilts his head. "I was there when it happened. I've seen it already. I had to – " He presses his lips together. "Nothing I haven't seen before, McKay."

Rodney's eyes close for a moment, and he sags. "Fine," he whispers, pulling his shirt from his pants. "Fine."

The tattoo is just as awful and beautiful as before – perhaps more so now that most of the swelling is gone. John settles Rodney on the edge of the bed and sits beside him. The angle's awkward, but there's too much vulnerability implied in having him lie down, and they can manage like this. John unscrews the lid of the jar of ointment, looks up and tries to clear his mind of the memory of Rodney's shoulders, bent beneath the sharpened tool of a bureaucratic artisan, flexing in pain and humiliation, taut with an unholy strength. He clenches his jaw as his trigger finger flexes – and dips that fingertip into the ointment Carson prescribed.

The cream smells of home – cool mint, and something earthier, basil or rosemary, he can't fathom what. He smoothes the ointment along the lines and curves of the mark, and Rodney shivers, sighs and lets his head roll forward, pliant with relief.

"This word – " John begins.

"I know what it means," Rodney says tightly.

John rubs the cream gently over an accent mark. "Elizabeth looked it up. It's Ancient."

"Well, well," Rodney sighs. "Why doesn't that surprise me. More evidence of their dark side."

"The folks on that planet – they got it wrong."

"Great. What? I'm a whore as well as a – " He doesn't say the word, but John can see his jaw clench.

John's hand stills, and he spreads his fingers over the whole of the tattoo. "In Ancient, it means protected."

"Lovely. An instruction to look out for your commercial holdings," Rodney mutters.

"No." John chews on his lip. "More like – " He searches his memory for Elizabeth's explanation. "Cherished. It was never meant to be a mark for – for slaves."

Rodney's quiet for a long, pregnant moment. "Cherished," he repeats flatly.

"I’m sorry I couldn't – "

"It's not your fault."

"It's my job to make sure – "

"It's their fault, okay? Their fault with their – " Rodney gestures, " – ridiculous conflation of God and Science and security, as if science is sure-fire protection against anything; as if controlling the handful of people on that world whose mental capacities haven't been destroyed by the genetic programming of generations of stupid can prevent war, or disease, or – or pain." His voice shakes a little at the end and he rubs a hand on his thigh.

John sets down the ointment and wets his lips, trying to find the words Teyla would no doubt have if she were here. "I just – "

"I'm sorry you had to see it."


"No, I am. Because now you're going to hover and fuss and take this on your shoulders too, as if you haven't been storing up every accident and disaster since we got here, as if you don't brood over the whole fucked up store of what we've done wrong and own it, own it as if you could single-handedly make it right if you were just good enough."

John's trigger-finger twitches. "I just – "

"Save it, Sheppard."

John ducks his head, takes a deep, steadying breath. "Rodney." Silence spins out between them, tense and angry, and the impulse that speaks as a tremor in John's fingers makes his heart-rate skip, makes his breath skitter and jump. Easier if this were something he could fix with a gun.

"Just go."

"No." And John slides closer, flexes his fingers a couple of times, trying to wrap his head around what his body wants to do. "I'm – " He leans in awkwardly to press his chest against Rodney's back, to cover the tattoo with his body – rests his chin on Rodney's shoulder and slides his arms around his waist.

Rodney shivers hard. "You are so fucked up."

"Yeah. So?"

One of Rodney's hands shifts to rest on John's arm. "If this is – "

John squeezes him tighter as a response.

Rodney sags as John holds on. "Protected."




Rodney pauses for a moment, then shifts and turns, pushes John down on the bed and crawls back into the circle of his arms, pushing his face into the soft crease of John's neck. He lets out a long breath, an exhale that hitches before it smoothes, and John – stunned, comforted, relieved – rests a hand over the tattoo; witness, pledge and promise; shelter in a callused palm.
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(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 06:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] an-kayoh.livejournal.com
That's awesome. I was surprised by how relieved I was when I found out that the word meant something else. I hadn't noticed that it was bothering me that much.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 06:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] adafrog.livejournal.com
Very well done. Liked it a lot.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 07:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] porntestpilot.livejournal.com
People enslave what they value most I suppose. That was gorgeous Cate.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 07:02 pm (UTC)
ext_11979: (McShep Inside by tinny)
From: [identity profile] suki-blue.livejournal.com
That was wonderful.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 07:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zee.livejournal.com

You have such a gift with final lines/images.
(deleted comment)

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 07:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] torakowalski.livejournal.com
That was great, really involving.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 07:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dancinguniverse.livejournal.com
oh, wow. gorgeous, and wonderful conclusion. You are such a true writer. Your words are never anything but beautiful.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 07:56 pm (UTC)
sage: Still of Natasha Romanova from Iron Man 2 (mcshep married)
From: [personal profile] sage
god, ow. This was chilling and beautiful. Poor them.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 08:04 pm (UTC)
ext_1798: (Default)
From: [identity profile] wildestranger.livejournal.com
You write pain and then relief so beautifully. And both their particularly kind of frustrations. Lovely. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 08:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] margarks.livejournal.com
wow. that was really powerful and so well done. I loved John's little twitches and the way Rodney sort of shrunk down under the weight of the tattoo.

that was excellent, thanks for writing.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 08:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] frantic-allonsy.livejournal.com
Ooh, so tense. I was wondering if Rodney was going to be able to withstand having a slave tattoo on his back forever, and I was really relieved it turned out to mean protected instead.

Also loved John's trigger finger. I sympathize. 'Shoot' is my default function too.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 08:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] spacedmonkey.livejournal.com
Loved this.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 08:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 20thcenturyvole.livejournal.com
Eeee! Man, it's a perfectly even combination of 'tattoo' and 'scar'. Also, Sheppard is lovely when he's all protective.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 08:51 pm (UTC)
ext_22585: miasnape text icon (David Hewlett Lemon)
From: [identity profile] miasnape.livejournal.com
John just echoed through my head when I read this (because, let's face it, there's not much else in there to absorb the sound), and it was beautiful. Just a gorgeous piece of writing.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 09:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] asturiet.livejournal.com
Mmmm, lovely. Thank you for posting!

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 09:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] skoosiepants.livejournal.com
very lovely, and like someone else said, it was nice to find out the word meant something different

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 09:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shadowserenity.livejournal.com
Wow, utterly beautiful. So much imagery in this piece. I was thankful for Rodney that the word meant something else, something intimate in his relationship with Sheppard. I'll be reccing on my lj, thank you :).

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 09:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mz-bstone.livejournal.com
This is lovely.


(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 09:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ceares.livejournal.com
Lovely work. This was a great look at the weight on John's shoulders, and the power of words and ideas.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 09:53 pm (UTC)
ext_42396: jensen (tsk)
From: [identity profile] tskterata.livejournal.com
that was just lovely - exactly what I needed on this rainy day

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 10:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shara50.livejournal.com
That was wonderful.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 11:00 pm (UTC)
ext_2400: (Sheppard)
From: [identity profile] fullygoldy.livejournal.com
You continue to amaze and slay me. Thank you for this beautiful, beautiful thing.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 11:09 pm (UTC)
ext_979: (rodney (jchalo))
From: [identity profile] saba1789.livejournal.com
That was beautiful. Thanks for writing and sharing it :-) .

(no subject)

Date: 2006-11-23 11:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] stormheller.livejournal.com
Pain and beauty rolled into one.
Thank you for writing.
~ Stormy
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